I’m bracing myself for some serious dressing up this week, instead of the monotonous dressing down of last month. Thankfully, the positive of working in a large school is knowing that you can always count on a Year 11 or a Year 13 student to embrace their last day and punch forthcoming exams in the face by donning an inflatable sumo wrestler suit or a Pink Ladies’ silk bomber jacket. I’m been taking lessons.
For someone who always dreaded fancy dress parties, I’m surprising myself.
Perhaps it wasn’t actually the fancy dress I dreaded, but the party itself. In fact, to be fair, I’ve always risen to the big occasion – years ago one of my sisters dressed me up in funeral garb and made me stand by a make-shift wooden cross in the garden where we’d buried our pet goldfish; she wanted to run a pescatarian funeral ceremony – the photo shows me crying my eyes out authentically, so I must have embraced the role whole heartedly. (Either that, or I’d just realised I was the only sister mug enough to be dressed up for this event). I even think I once volunteered to dress as Granny Smith in a school fancy dress competition and remember being mortified, after a morning spent shining up a basket full of green apples, to lose out in the final dressage to Lawrence, an arrogant upstart from class 2 who had pimped his spiderman pyjamas and crafted his own web from macrame.
Moving forward, I need to tell you that when you apply for Head of Sixth Form in any school, the deal breaker question on the student interview panel will be, ‘what’s your favourite dress up costume, Miss?’. Thankfully, from my no dress up threshold (I don’t even like dress down days at work and ‘smart casual’ is a recipe for a personal wardrobe malfunction), over the years I’ve worked with colleagues who have handmade me fancy dress costumes so that I’ve felt beholden to wear them, and I have never dared use the ‘I’ve left my kit at home’ card. I now find myself with no need for a fake response to the dress up question – my difficulty is whittling the choice down to one favourite outfit, for my dressing up box is now extensive.
I’ve morphed into someone who now seems more excited than the students about the thought of five days of consecutive fancy dress in the name of charity for RAG Week, and has already started checking out fancy dress shops for Year 13’s Leavers’ Day. (Not convinced about the Jungle Golf theme by the way chaps, but perhaps some leopard skin plus fours and a coloured visor will keep my Mr Ben* reputation intact). Where’s Wally? Got the striped t shirt and hat, Pirates? Captain Jack Sparro’ at at your service. Harry Potter? Professor Dolores, pretty in pink.
For what it’s worth, my answer to that interview question, after great deliberation, is my nun costume. Conversely, nothing so far has been more liberating than donning a habit and veil, and hitching up my hassock to become a nun on the run when a Year 8 needed chasing down for pilfering another student’s football. I have to confess that lunchtime duty has never been so fulfilling.
Tonight I’ve been invited to a significant birthday party and I can now acknowledge that the thought of going to a party alone, seems strangely easier knowing that I can go in disguise; thankfully it’s fancy dress and the theme is ‘Dressed to Kill’. In need of advice, I put this to my year 10 class. We we discussing a murder in a poem from their GCSE anthology, so I used it sneakily as a starter activity, without telling them that I was actually looking for creative inspiration.
‘Year 10, who would you go as if you were invited to a fancy dress party with a ‘Dressed to Kill’ theme?’
With a nearly all male class, I feel on reflection that I would have been better sharing my intentions with them before posing the question. They don’t know that I’ve split with my husband, and they don’t know how hard I’m finding socialising without my companion of 26 years. (They could have taken the cue from my nun outfit, I know). Perhaps if I’d mentioned that I was ideally looking to leave a room full of strangers with an impression of my beauty, humour and creativity and invite them to enter into easy conversation with me, then they may have given their answers more careful consideration.
Instead, they offered me Ted Bundy (Necrophile), Jack the Ripper or Harold Shipman. I didn’t know whether to despair or be impressed with a depth of knowledge they had certainly never applied to the poetic form. Anyway, thankfully Year 10, I’m sorted. Back to murdering poetry.
Offering more inspiration, we had World Book Day at school recently. In truth, following this, I would like to take the whole Humanities Faculty to the party because they aced the theme with ‘A 101 Dalmations’ vibe – and, if I took their inspiration and dressed as one of Cruella De Vil’s henchmen, I too would only need to throw a child’s spotted onesy over my arm and carry an empty dog lead on the other… Perhaps it’s too risky to walk into a room of strangers without knowing whether dark humour computes. Instead, I’ve taken the fairytale theme from World Book Day , and will dress as Malificient again.
Malificent is indeed a killer choice. I already have the headdress – purchased easily online – and I’ve rocked the look twice with modest success and secretly enjoyed being malignant. (Ok, so I was top trumped by a colleague who made her own Malificent horns out of paper mâché on World Book Day, but I’m recently estranged remember, and have no time or energy for excursions to Hobby Craft). I still love the nun look (and that will remain my interview answer), but I know of no murderous ladies of the cloth and it would feel wrong tonight to be chugging red wine while looking like a reject from ‘The Sound of Music’. Instead, said Malificent headdress will disguise a bad hair day, will be strangely empowering and – most reassuringly – will fold up neatly into a clutch bag (get me) if I discover no-one else has dressed up for the party.
I still get nervous about parties and I will still feel strangely exposed to be going alone. Going in disguise might help though. I’m reassured; killer outfit sorted and lesson learnt. Tonight’s plenary will be dressing up, not down.